South Australia is in the running to become the home of the world’s largest
radio telescope, South Australian MPs were told today at a briefing in
Parliament House, Adelaide.

Ten countries are planning the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope,
which will be able to see back into the early Universe and observe the first
galaxies forming.

Australia is a major player in the planning consortium and one of several
countries that will bid to host the $1 billion project.

South Australia has some promising sites for the telescope, according to
CSIRO’s Dr Michelle Storey.

“Background levels of man-made radio signals are rising over much of the
Earth’s surface. They make it increasingly more difficult for radio
telescopes to see the faint radio signals from the cosmos,” she says.

“The SKA is going to be an incredibly sensitive telescope. Therefore it
has to be sited in a ‘radio-quiet’ location.

“South Australia has many such sites. It also has flat stable land, a
snow-free climate, and access to infrastructure and telecommunications
links — all of which the telescope needs.

“The design of the telescope is not yet decided. Australia is proposing an
array of large spherical radio receivers — like a flock of eggs on legs,”
she says.

Dramatically new technologies will be needed for the SKA, says Professor
Ron Ekers, Director of CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility.

“Out of the SKA we’re going to get ‘smart antennas’ and other breakthrough
communications technologies,” he says.

“This offers important opportunities for Australian industry.” Dr Geoff
Brownlie, BAE Systems, told the MPs that South Australian industry is
already well equipped to be a major participant in the SKA program, should
it be based in South Australia.

“Local industry and research institutions have the necessary technical
skills in all SKA technologies, including antennas, microwave receivers,
signal processing, communications, synthetic beamforming and the analysis
of complex data,” he says.

“South Australia could also contribute to the detailed design of the SKA
and a significant proportion of the SKA system could be manufactured by
SA industry.”

Australian research institutions working on the SKA project include CSIRO,
the University of Sydney and the Australian National University.

An international committee will choose the telescope site in 2005.
Construction will take 10 years.

More information:

Professor Ron Ekers, CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility

02 9372 4300

Dr Michelle Storey, CSIRO ATNF

02 9372 4590

Ms Helen Sim, CSIRO ATNF

02 9372 4251, 0419 635 905

Dr Geoff Brownlie, British Aerospace

08 8480 7794, 0419 813 442

IMAGE CAPTION: [http://www.csiro.au/page.asp?type=imageDef&id=SKA (538KB)]
One possible design for the Square Kilometre Array. The individual elements
that collect the radio waves are 5-meter diameter spheres, grouped into
patches a few hundred metres across. The whole telescope consists of many
patches, some separated by hundreds of kilometers.

Image: Ben Simons, Sydney VisLab.

Contacts:

Prof R D (Ron) Ekers

Director, ATNF

Australia Telescope National Facility

PO Box 76

Epping NSW 1710

Phone: +61 2 9372 4300

Fax: +61 2 9372 4310

Email: rekers@atnf.csiro.au

Ms Wendy Parsons

Senior Communicator

CSIRO National Awareness

PO Box 225

Dickson ACT 2602

Australia

Phone:+61 2 6276 6615

Fax:+61 2 6276 6821

Mobile: +61 0419 208194

Email:Wendy.Parsons@nap.csiro.au